A face gazin down from the North Wall a The Tower, all red, black and orange, eyes like Charon’s guts, grinding the bellies a dissidents tween the teeth, and the words; “Know Your Enemy” or similar. Look here, now. Here he is, the Enemy. This monstrous belly-grinder caught in the half-light a Hades, there he is.
Know Him! (Not in the Biblical sense, you understand, god forbid.)
Propaganda. What The Duke would reveal is that yeah, I love it. It fascinates me, no sense hiding ‘hind the veil of “meh“. Those angular modernist spreads from the first half of the twentieth century, those information films edited to the pulse of Solidarity, Disney’s astonishing Education For Death, Leni Riefenstahl paintin that fuck out Downfall in shades of grandeur, all of it, regardless of the cause, captures a fella’s awe-glands in all sortsa curious snares.
And the suffering a man might endure!
A lady-friend, she’s coming over, she announces, maybe we could watch a DVD or something?
For sure, sayeth The Duke, why in hell’s name not, fact, I just picked up a couple this very day, maybe we could watch them?
Two hours later, the second Why We Fight masterpiece making way for the menu screen, the eyebrow arched, all a sudden “We need to talk”, and no, ain’t gonna be no discussion of Capra’s editing prowess.
A man would be all sortsa distressed if Battleship Potemkin wasn’t so near to hand.
And following Eisenstien’s masterwork concernin the sailors and the tsarists and the demented priests wi hair like blown-back cathedrals, a DVD catching the corner of the eye.
A documentary, no less, number by the name of War Is Sell, “The History, Tactics & Culture Of War Propaganda.”
And with the loneliness claspin at a fella’s eyeballs an those stone lions out Potemkin still etched in the black of the telly screen, what The Duke decides is yeah, time me and this War Is Sell had a time together, no sense pretending we ain’t thought about it.
What War Is Sell concerns itself with, is the in’s and out’s of the wartime scrawls and the hunch-backed huns and the bold font with the six exclamation marks either side.
Via three main sections, director Brian Standing examines the history of the form, looks at attempts to keep young folks informed of the wily ways of the propagandist, and draws parallels between the predominant portrayal of The Cannibal in early colonialist literature and the portrayal of The Terrorist in the western world post-9/11.
Three sections, three acts, and one thread to bind them, yes.
And immediately what a fella realizes is that Brian Standing is a fine individual, these are fine points, these are fine arguments, and look at those posters siftin pass the vision-glands, beautiful tapestries of manipulation and ideological bullying.
Is all this enough to carry a film, a slab of cinematographic something?
No sense worrying just yet, not when we’re flung kidney-deep into A Brief History Of It All, of the form, yes, of the motives.
This first third, it’s got a hell of a task ahead of itself, it wants to lead us all the way from WW1 to last week in Iraq in less time than it takes for an episode of The Simpsons to run its course, with the adverts removed and those hideous “Sponsored by Dominos Pizzas” things that bookend it here in the United UK flung to the fires of memory.
What Standing does, though, is rather than offer a chronological run-down at the kinda pace would break a man’s spine in five, he gets all Goddard with regards the A, B, C, yes, he talks about those anti-Hun works at the same time as he’ll discuss that footage of Hussein’s statue being dragged cross the streets of Iraq.
And so the parallels, the constants in the whole affair, they slap a man cross the yap every couple frames.
Except he won’t discuss them, Brian Standing, no, it’s the talking heads, the talking heads pointing out the misrepresentation and the doublespeak from then to now, Same As It Ever Was, indeed.
Who are these talking heads, who are these faces bobbing back and fourth in front my very teeth?
There ain’t a lot of them, and that might well be Problem A, if we’re gonna lay these things cross the tables and examine the fuckers at length.
Two of them are responsible for Weapons Of Mass Distraction, a book that wanders cross the same planes Standing explores in this first third, and also, far as I’m aware, became a documentary in its own right.
And problem B; No-one interviewed for the flick has any sort of dissenting opinion whatsoever, as in, dissenting from the dissenters, you understand.
So the irony of it all, of this first chunk a screentime, yes. That this film exploring the intricacies and evils of propaganda does, in fact, become nigh-on propagandist itself. A man can’t help but scratch the head-plates when an individual onscreen is advising us not to accept the words of a few folks as gospel truth, you understand, and the next speaker says the same thing, and then back to the first, and a third who’ll agree with the earlier folks.
Understand! Hark, I agree with these people, yes, all through a fella’s noddin an clapping and shuffling and mumbling, kinda physiological shit goin on would cause an onlooker to assume I just done caught sight of these folks cross the counter in a café, aye, and with fifty-seven verses written for to offer unto the sway of their hair this way or that.
But no, purely intellectual, this admiration right here.
And all these fascinating pieces of artwork an TV footage and newsreels and the like; Manipulation through the ages, images of snarling Germans and buck-toothed slant-eyed “Japs” nestling longside fabricated reports of atrocities in Kuwait, (on account of the actual atrocities proved a tad embarrassing to the US Administration) and yeah, those masses taking to the streets, tearing Hussein’s statue asunder, footage that leads the viewer to assume a hell of a lot more citizens were present at the event, footage that leads the viewer to assume thousands, most likely hundreds of thousands, were rallying round, when the actuality, the wide-lens, yes, reveals all sortsa contrasting information.
Intellectually sound, The Duke announces.
And yet the scowling ol’ bastard leaning over the shoulder, whisperin into The Duke’s ear-drum-holes. “But is this enough?” Lookin at the notebook. Is it enough?
Because a man can’t go about reviewing a motion flick if he doesn’t mention how it might work as such. As a slab of cinema, you understand, as a piece representing the motion arts, uh-huh, and where they might be at, War Is Sell is, well, kinda lacking.
As a film, as something to be exhibited and adored and loved and discussed, it’s flat, it looks fairly poor, it has the aesthetics of a puddle side a kerb in a fairly nondescript street no-ones walked on for a decade.
Cause that ol’ bastard, what he’ll say is, agreeing with the sentiments and issues and ideas raised therein isn’t enough to justify a motion-flick, no, because at some point you have to think, well, why not write a book?
The notebook, what it says is;
“Yes, as a film I don’t know how successful this is, I don’t know that 56 minutes is long enough for this kinda venture, I don’t know that sections two and three, interesting as they are, couldn’t have been shortened significantly and maybe a few more viewpoints flung into the first act.”
The second and third acts, see, they’re just not as arresting as that first twenty-minutes or so.
We get a fairly lengthy diversion in the direction of a Wisconsin high school, wherein a history teacher has decided to incorporate the workings of propaganda into her lessons. Plenty footage of students discussing the similarities between representations of The Hun ninety years ago and the representation of The Taliban in the Here and Now. Fairly depressing this section turns out to be, on account of the youngsters making statements along the lines of “Yes, it’s so obvious that people can be manipulated into supporting an unjust war, unlike, say, the recent one in Iraq.”
And lastly, in maybe the most interesting portion of War Is Sell, in so far as what’s being discussed might be concerned, Neil Whitehead, a professor at The University Of Wisconsin, gives an extended yak regarding the similarities between portrayals of cannibals in the Colonialist era and Terrorists in the nowadays, coming to the not-that-terribly-groundbreaking conclusion that there is as much cannibal / terrorist in us as them.
Everything Whitehead says is fairly splendid, and on account of how long we have to listen to him, the interview is intercut with a world of news footage and documents, Whitehead himself being projected onto two television screens.
But when the credits roll and the white crosses the black for the last time, what a fella is left with is a sense that as a film, War Is Sell is just too fragmented, too visually conservative.
And wouldn’t you know it, all of this, or most of it, is remedied by the inclusion of an “Alternative Remix Version” on disc 2 of the special edition DVD.
This cut of War Is Sell, hidden away in the special features, is by far the better film, the various elements interwoven, the acts bleeding through one another as one, rather than as separate chunks.
It makes a fella wonder why this isn’t the “official” version, since it’s superior in every damn way; the pacing, the structure, the flow of the affair is improved immeasurably.
And sayin to the ol’ bastard on the shoulder, “See, this, this now is a fine motion-flick, right here, this remix affair. I can get behind it.”
Also included in the bonus features are a series of deleted scenes and speeches and, perhaps best of all, a selection of propaganda material. Posters from WW1, WW2 and both Gulf Wars, newsreels and fifteen minutes of Why We Fight entitled “Divide And Conquer”.
It’s fairly unfortunate that two of the archive films are cut off at the fifteen-minute point, but nonetheless, we get the entirety of a documentary advising folks on how to ensure their society doesn’t fall foul of despotism.
These archival films provide no-end of contrast-compare shenanigans. Look how nonplussed those silent film-makers were with regards flingin dead bodies around the frame, look how far the art-form had progressed by the time of Frank Capra’s stunning WW2 pictures, and just look at the despotism number, a film that warns of the perils of a select few owning too much land, too many media outlets, the horrors awaiting any society that indulges in political or racial discrimination, a film that paints bosses as laughing demons yacking on about “Around here, I am the law!”.
Ten years later the film would never had gotten past the twitchin jowls of McCarthy, and here it is, presented, it appears, as a high-school educational film.
So, Alfie, the bottom line, head’s up. War Is Sell. Ignore the “official” version and head straight to the remix, no end of cranial stimulation awaits. And also, turns out Triumph Of The Will ain’t the best date-flick ever etched in celluloid.